/  June 16, 2017

CoMotion leading change through challenges toward opportunities

CoMotion Inclusive Innovation Quadrant

In 2014, Vikram Jandhyala was intentionally brought in by the leadership including then-Provost Ana Mari Cauce to innovate tech transfer and build upon its previous successes as the Center for Commercialization. As a result, CoMotion has been built to be consistent with the vision of UW leadership to transform from a solely tech transfer/ commercialization model to an inclusive innovation hub with a focus around innovation transfer, innovation learning and innovation strategy.

Like practically all university tech transfer offices, CoMotion inherited an old business model of tech transfer, initiated in the 1980’s after the passing of the Bayh-Dole Act. This business model is no longer consistent with CoMotion’s mission to help expand the economic and societal impact of UW’s innovations, while also building an inclusive innovation mindset for the entire community.

A set of well-regarded licensed UW technologies - the Hall patents - generated immense societal and economic value and funded the Washington Research Foundation which has been a great asset to our state. As a symptom of the outmoded tech transfer business model, CoMotion hit a revenue cliff from the expiration of the Hall patents that was expected and planned for. In order to promote these type of “black swan” innovations in the future, we must create environments for them to come to fruition, and we’ll aim to do that through our new model of innovation based on a sustainable business model that reflects the need to be lean and agile. 

The nature and value of intellectual property has morphed significantly in the last three decades since the Bayh-Dole Act. Therefore, CoMotion is placing an increased emphasis on impact through execution of ideas, products, incubation, investment, partnerships and startups especially in a landscape where practically all net jobs and more than 60% of all new jobs are created through startups and small businesses. UW leadership has been and is supportive in helping during this transition time as we transform business models. However, demand for our services and the value they create is increasing at the same time that we need to be lean and agile. 

UW expects to maintain a leadership position in innovation and influence the innovation metrics to shift over time from simplistic criteria like numbers of patents, licenses, and startups to truer economic and societal value created from these. In rankings that continue to use pure numerical activity, CoMotion expects to see a fall in the short term as the innovation marketplace readjusts to more impact-based metrics.

The operational goals of CoMotion are to provide the best value for UW and the community to expand economic and social impact while staying lean and efficient. In effect, we are leveraging the innovation mindset for our own future leading the University in agility and adaptability. The model for scalable innovation with long-term economic and societal benefit is necessarily one with a long-tail, high-risk, high-payoff, long investment horizon portfolio which does not fit perfectly into a conventional, year-to-year fiscal business model that you would see in mature institutions.

Looking ahead, the model of CoMotion will embody the entrepreneurial spirit and will lead to a diversified revenue base, based on incubation, investment, philanthropy, strategic internal and external partnerships, training, licensing, equity, and university support. With the right resources, the opportunity to make positive societal and economic change at scale is boundless. CoMotion is a key catalyst and hub in the region for this transformation which helps keep us globally competitive.